Oldham 24 - Hornets 34
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. At the end of this pressure-cooker derby at Bower Fold it was clear to see, as the Hornets players celebrated a gritty win with their noisy supporters as Scott Naylor sat stone-faced in the back of the stand, visibly gutted by his side’s inability to reel-in a punchy, fluid Hornets who led this contest from the 3rd minute to the last.
Bar a short-lived fightback in the ten minutes either side of half-time - Hornets were by some distance the better side, playing most of the football on offer and putting in some impressive goal-line defence.
Hornets took no time in establishing their dominance: early pressure from Oldham took them close to the Hornets line, but when Hewitt threw a no-look cut-out pass, it was snaffled by Kev Penny who pinned back his ears and blasted fully 95 metres to score. Yatesey no mistake from bang in front and Hornets 0-6 up after just three minutes.
Oldham established a brief period of cursory resistance, but when Hornets drove deep into Roughyed territory on 12 minutes, Jono Smith produced an audacious reverse pass you could get an Arts Council grant for, to send the impressive Dec Kay in for a great try, Danny Yates good with the boot and Hornets up with the clock at 0-12.
Just two minutes later Hornets went back on the attack. This time going right off the back of two cheap Oldham penalties, only for the touchie to deem that Kev Penny had put his foot on the line. No matter.
Having stemmed a foray from Oldham’s walking anger-issue Tyson, Hornets took the ball up the heart of the Oldham defence where Ben Moores found a huge hole to carry the ball into open field. As Neild moved in to tackle, Mooresy dropped the ball onto his toe for Jake Eccleston to gather and score untouched. Danny Yates on target and Hornets 0-18 up with 20 minutes gone. Oldham a ragged mess.
On the half hour, Oldham found their range - on a rare attack, they sent big-lad Smith rumbling in off a short-ball from two metres: Leatherbarrow the extras for 6-18.
Hornets wasted no time in going straight back on the attack, but when Josh Crowley was gang-bundled into touch, the game erupted into a flurry of pushes and punches. The only surprise was that it took this long. Having picked the bones out of it, Mr Hewer dispatched Ben Moores and Tyson for ten minutes.
With the game now drenched in a downpour, Jake Ecclestone was blood-binned after a high shot, but it was the returning Tyson’s acting skills that drew a penalty from Mr. Hewer. With the half ebbing away, OIdham finally applied some pressure - Ward knocking on over the line when it looked easier to score. The home side did snatch a fortuitous try when a Leatherbarrow bomb landed amongst a tangle of chasers; Clay playing to the whistle to touch down. Leatherbarrow the two and - somehow - Oldham back in the game at 12-18 having played virtually no football at all.
Indeed, they reverted to type immediately, dropping the kick-off possession, then coughing a really cheap, petulant penalty in front for Danny Yates to give Hornets a chink of daylight at the break: half time, 12-20.
It was always likely that Oldham would start the second half with purpose and, within three minutes, they kept the ball alive well in front of a stretched Hornets defence, Hewitt finding the hole to score. Leatherbarrow the two and at 18-20 we suddenly had a game on our hands.
Hornets response was direct, handed the opportunity after Ward had knocked on first tackle after playing the ball incorrectly. Hornets went swiftly left, but Lewis Galbraith did exactly the same to let Oldham off the hook.
Hornets continued to press hard, Oldham’s best response was to wipe-out playmaker Danny Yates in back-play. but while the home side were looking there, Lewis Foster hoisted a teasing pinpoint bomb into the in-goal where Williams folded under pressure from Kev Penny and Jordan Case dived in to get a hand on the ball: 18-24.
Hornets turned the screw. First forcing a drop-out, then the ball slipping agonisingly from Ant Walker’s grip as he reached out to score. Oldham played their get-out of jail card and set off downfield where they camped on Hornets’ 10m line for three consecutive sets. Hornets defence unyielding, Oldham ending an 18-tackle barrage by flinging a loose pass into touch. Lovely stuff.
On the hour mark came two moments that broke the back of the game: firstly Chris Riley imperious under a steepling bomb, then - 90 seconds later - Ant Walker orchestrating a slick interchange of passes for Dec Kay to ghost-in for his second try of the afternoon. No mistake from Danny Yates; 18-30.
Oldham had one last hurrah in them: Leatherbarrow sliding a grubber into the in-goal for Tyson to score a very angry try. Leatherbarrow adding the two to close the gap to 24-30.
Unfazed, Hornets went straight up the other end, stretched the Oldham defence to breaking point and slotted Kev Penny in by the flag on a huge overlap. 24-34.
There was still time for Mr Hewer to strike off what would have been Dec Kay’s hat-trick after Chris Riley’s pass was deemed forward, but in the wash-up this was a deserved win for a never-say die Hornets who played eye-catching football at every opportunity.
Elsewhere, in-form Dewsbury overcame Sheffield to grab 8th place by a point, leaving Hornets facing three home games and four away games in the 8s. Conflictingly, a choking Toulouse failed to make the middle 8, so Hornets will have to travel - again - to the South of France looking to get a result.
From here on in this competition becomes a game of arithmetic. Swinton’s win at 12-man Bradford means that - with 14 points on offer - the Bulls cannot now catch Hornets. And the +102 points difference over Oldham is a handy contingency.
You have to feel that, with a few ‘regulars’ back in the line-up, Hornets have more improvement in them for the run-in. And with two derby wins over our local rivals inside a month, the next seven games should be very interesting indeed.